A Night of Noir, Oct. 30 at Capilano library in North Vancouver. Registration required. Guests can register online or by calling 604-987-4471, ext. 8175.
People crave the macabre, says writer Jackie Bateman.
She’s talking about her adoration for horror, for things ghoulish and chilling and dark. She knows others crave the same sinister sensations – the bone-tingling fear of reading a spooky tale under a thick blanket’s protective embrace, or snug on a sofa watching Norman Bates beget Michael Myers beget Pennywise through clenched fingers and dim lighting.
But, she admits: “We all live in a world now where we’ve seen it all on the news. We’ve heard it all. Nothing really seems to scare us anymore, we’re drowning in it – and that’s just the news.”
In her latest novel, Straight Circles, the North Vancouver-based author’s darkly fictional universe comes full circle with the conclusion of The Lizzy Trilogy, a world the writer first delved into a decade ago in her debut novel, Nondescript Rambunctious.
“I’ve never been a fan of the crime series where the murderer leaves some clues and we’re all trying to figure out who it is, that kind of thing,” she says. “I thought I’d like to write something where it’s happening next door and I think that’s kind of scary in itself. It’s a very real possibility that people like him are under the radar, and they’re the most dangerous people, the ones that don’t get found.”
The “him” Bateman’s referring to is Oliver, the obsessive nemesis and suspected serial killer that lies at the dark heart of The Lizzy Trilogy, which also includes a middle novel called Savour.
The first book in the series was described as a “genre-busting thriller,” due to the novel’s chillingly calm perspective that switched back and forth between Oliver’s, his victim’s and his victim’s daughter, Lizzy. As Lizzy attempts to move past the tense events first described in Nondescript Rambunctious, she moves to London from Scotland in a bid to carry on with her life, even as the stalking Oliver battles his insatiable need to both protect her – and cause her harm.
Bateman says it was important to return Lizzy to her old haunts in the trilogy’s fiery conclusion.
“The main character, Lizzy, travels back – we move 10 years on – and she travels back to her eccentric small town in the Scottish Highlands,” says Bateman. “We go back to the heart of the story, back to the original cast of characters and we learn with her what happened. The readers get the final resolution, the final ending of the story. They find out what they’ve been wanting to know.”
When Bateman was writing Straight Circles she wanted to know what it would be like to experiment with the style she’d already honed in her first two novels, opting to alternate between first- and third-person perspectives as the novel jumps between Oliver’s violent urges and Lizzy’s desire to confront her harrowing past.
“I’ve still got the psychopath in first person because I like being in his head,” muses Bateman. “You have to try new things and learn new things.”
Locales such as London and the Scottish Highlands, as well as characters in the trilogy’s use of a rapturous Scottish dialect, came naturally for Bateman, who was born in England, grew up in Kenya and various places throughout Africa, before moving back to England and then living in Scotland throughout her 20s. She moved to North Vancouver 15 years ago.
“I know the area, I know the characters, I know all the towns,” says Bateman about the gritty fictional Scottish town that much of The Lizzy Trilogy is set in. “It’s kind of a nowhere town, it’s one of the post-industrialist eyesores of the Scottish Highlands – big sprawling ugly messes of council houses and rusty old playparks. … I took all the places that I had seen and amalgamated them into one big festering sore.”
When Nondescript Rambunctious was first published in 2011, winning the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University’s First Book Competition, Bateman was stunned and the win eventually helped her set off on the road towards a high-output writing career. She’s currently working on a pilot for TV, a screenplay set in Kenya in the late 1970s, and a new standalone novel in the wake of The Lizzy Trilogy’s conclusion.
“It was just a challenge, and good fun, to be inside his mind,” says Bateman about wrapping up the series and the grizzly antagonist where she first broke ground as a writer. “I continued to do that for three books. He spirals throughout the three books, so by the end he was a quivering wreck.”
Bateman, who grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King novels and horror flicks, encourages burgeoning writers to “read a lot and write every day. Just keep writing.”
Those who want to learn more about her craft can do so Oct. 30 at Capilano library in North Vancouver, where Bateman will be participating in a panel called A Night of Noir, featuring other noted local fiction and non-fiction crime writers.
Asked whether her next novel will examine lighter subject matter, Bateman admits that everything she writes is “pretty dark.”
“I’m writing a new novel which is probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written, I have to say,” notes Bateman. She’s quick to add: “I’m actually quite a nice person really.”